The events unfolding in the eastern theatre of the country since 4 June have created more confusion than clarity. The media feed we were lapping up and which then generated social media outbreaks, articles and discourses, that the Indian military (Army and Air Force) conducted a joint strike inside Myanmarese territory (to avenge the deaths of 18 soldiers of the 6 Dogra Regiment and the injury of 11 others as a result of an ambush orchestrated by the NSCN(K), now seem like unconfirmed stories.
In fact, the media stories were based on Army press handouts. No independent reports have emerged as yet. But the media, particularly the electronic circle, went into overdrive. Instead of the Union defence minister or the home minister, it was junior minister for information and broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore who spoke to the media and confirmed that the surgical strike by Indian security forces happened inside Myanmarese territory where several insurgent outfits of the North-east are holed up. He was prodded by the media on whether similar strikes would be conducted inside Pakistan as well and he fell into the trap and replied in the affirmative. That was like putting the cat among the pigeons. Pakistan reacted and those in this country whose nationalistic fervour far surpasses that of many others even yelled on television studios that it was high time India avenged the “thousand cuts” inflicted by Pakistan since its inception.
As of today, Rathore&’s comments have been decried by his senior ministerial colleagues, but that&’s another issue since there are inherent contradictions galore in the BJP-led NDA government. Meanwhile, several self-styled security experts, journalists, scholars, retired military personnel and spokespersons for political parties are battling it out in TV studious. They have become the new talking heads for this country. Quite a few are running from one television studio to the next to declare before the nation that the Myanmar offensive was timely and “successful” and that such quick, sharp offensives were imperative if the country was to deal with rebels from across the border that dared attack its soldiers. Granted that no country will take kindly to its soldiers being blown to smithereens (or as some unconfirmed reports suggest they were actually butchered first before being burnt alive, which sounds horrendous) and a counter-offensive is what a nation state is expected to engage in. But the point here is that insurgency/militancy is a civil war as much as the Left Wing Extremism in Chattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra is.
The Army has never been called to deal with militancy in these areas as it has been in the North-eastern states. The argument could be that this region of the country is geo-strategically located and shares only four per cent of its borders with mainland India. Large swathes of its borders are with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The Chinese attack of 1962 seems to weigh heavily on the minds of the security establishment of this country. And they have reasons to, considering that Naga and Manipur insurgent outfits regularly travel to China and are given arms training and sophisticated weapons, as reported by Indian Intelligence agencies. While China has denied that its People&’s Liberation Army had any hand in the 4 June ambush on the 6 Dogra Regiment, that need not be taken as gospel. In this imbroglio it has become difficult to nail the issue. And truth, as we know it, is the first casualty in a conflict situation.
As of today, there are claims and counter-claims from the conflicting sides. The Indian Army gave a media brief saying what it wanted the nation to hear. The NSCN(K), which had signed a truce with the government of Myanmar in 2012, was allowed autonomy in the districts of Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun. The agreement also permits NSCN(K) cadres the freedom to move “unarmed” across Myanmar. Under NSCN(K) protection, a dozen banned militants groups of the North-east are reported to have hideouts in Sagaing division of Myanmar bordering Nagaland and Manipur. What has caused concern for the Indian security establishment are reports that an umbrella organisation — the United National Liberation Front of West South East Asia, comprising Ulfa&’s Paresh Baruah, the Manipur outfits, Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup and Kangleipak Communist Party, and five other outfits, allegedly aided and abetted by China — has been formed. It is believed that Baruah is the main protagonist of this united front.
The truce between the NSCN(K) and New Delhi ended in March this year and stands abrogated. It was expected that Khaplang would try and hit India where it hurts. It goes without saying that the ongoing peace talks between the NSCN (IM) and the government of India is not something Khaplang accepts without cringing. In fact, one wonders if Khaplang was ever keen on a settlement with the government of India for he is unlikely to gain much from it. At this age, it serves him better to be the leader of a group that can still strike fear in the enemy than come over-ground and have his credentials questioned. After all, Khaplang can only make sense if the Naga territories within Myanmar are included in the Nagalim of his dreams. People often wonder how insurgency in Mizoram was contained.
Let us not forget that the Mizo National Front then had a clear leader — Laldenga. The Nagas have several leaders and so, too, the Meitei groups. And insurgency enables each one to control its own purse strings! Over five decades of insurgency in the Northeast has created a pernicious form of political economy where outfits are used as private militia by politicians to strike at their rivals or to help them win elections. But militancy has also been a spawning ground for a string of businesses that ride on it. It would not be out of place to mention that several research studies on conflict/militancy/insurgency have been funded and continue to be funded. The amount must be a mindboggling one! Over the decades, several human rights groups have come up and travelled the world and collected trophies for their work.
There are peace activists and peace scholars who would not otherwise have come up in a region that is without conflict.There are security forces with a vested interest in being posted to these conflict zones because there is a thriving economy within that system as well. Then you have the intelligence agencies that are allowed a free-spending regime. As we are aware, money spent on snooping is not accounted for. And, yes, there is the media and mediapersons as well.
Many of us have churned out reams of papers and millions of words commenting on insurgency/militancy and offering our own wise counsel. Then there are contractors who use militants to coerce governments to give them contracts. And then there are state governments that work hand in glove with militants in siphoning off development funds in a seamless arrangement. Now why would any of the actors want insurgency to end? This insurgency-based industry would be hit real hard then. Even the Union home ministry is not an innocent bystander. One is never sure who is cutting a deal with whom — such is the reach of this industry. Take this away from the North-east and our collective coffers would go dry.
Well, let&’s keep watching the developments for want of a better preoccupation!